Category Archives: The Man in the Woods

The Ultimate Ending

I’ve been thinking recently, how often does the ending of a film, book or TV series exceed your expectations? How many times have you been blown away – either devastated or thrilled – in those closing moments?

Sixth Sense - the ultimate ending

(Alert – there are plenty of spoilers in this post, so proceed with caution…)

For me, there tend to be two, linked things that lift a story above and beyond the norm. Sadly, one of them is the death of the main character. As a young boy, I was forever imprinted by watching The Alamo with John Wayne, filled with feelings of horror, loss, admiration, and above all disbelief as Davy Crockett pitched himself into the magazine store with a torch in one last act of defiance. I felt similarly about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Saving Private Ryan (such a horrifyingly impersonal but cinematically astute way to pick off a character we’ve come to cherish), The Green Mile, Million Dollar Baby, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The ending of Night of the Living Dead is horrific, on both an intimate and a broader, social level. (Incidentally, that film was released a month before the US MPAA film rating system came into place, so was first watched by stunned kids and teenagers in a Saturday matinee in Pittsburgh). Everyone remembers the final episode of the First World War series of Blackadder, in which the sharp-as-a-tack Captain Blackadder is sent over the trenches with his hapless brothers-in-arms to certain death.

Wicker Man - ultimate ending

I think the ultimate story ending can also be linked to death, but doesn’t need to be. It’s more to do with a surprise twist that transforms or reframes all that’s gone before. The Wicker Man is one of these – what, no, it can’t all have been… and what’s going on now… surely he’s going to get out of there… Other films with great twists include The Others, The Usual Suspects, Get Out. But I think the best of all, and thus without doubt my favourite film, is The Sixth Sense. How many stories require you to retrace the whole course of an already gripping narrative right from the start?

I was thinking about all this because I’ve strived for those big twists that turn the whole story around in some of my own books. Particularly The Boy in the Burgundy Hood, The Girl in the Ivory Dress, Black Beacon and, probably most dramatically, The Man in the Woods. Because I love it. And want to do more of it. And most of all, because I want to make sure it works for you, the reader!

Tell me a book, film or TV show that’s made you sit up in your seat or burst out into tears. Endings that were devastating or breathtakingly thrilling, that took you somewhere above and beyond all the rest. I’m looking out for my next watch, and my next read.

2023 – A Year in Writing

As it’s that time for reflection, I thought I’d give an overview of my year from a writing perspective. First of all, the good. As most of you will know, I’ve been concentrating on my supernatural thrillers for the past five years. I’ve written three books in The Ghosts of Alice series, but this year I wanted to publish two standalone horror books that I’ve had in the pipeline for a while  and which I’m glad to say I managed to do.

The first, The Man in the Woods, I started several years ago but was interrupted by life and never finished. I realised when I re-read it earlier this year that I really liked it, it felt very different to my other writing and I loved the final twist.

Thanks to reader Linda Oliphant for this great photo!


Why was it so different to my other supernatural books? Well, several reasons.

  1. it’s the only one told in the first person
  2. it’s a novella
  3. it’s the only one of my supernatural thrillers not to feature ghosts (hope that’s not a spoiler… 😉)
  4. it’s about a teenage boy
  5. some people would even argue it’s not a supernatural thriller at all but… you’ll have to read it to decide whether it is or isn’t yourself!

I love this story. I thought it might well get mixed reviews – and possibly some negative reviews – but they’ve been (almost all!) positive so far.

The second book I published this year I actually finished as a first draft last Christmas – but decided to leave until November before I brought it out, for obvious reasons. It’s Black Beacon, a festive ghost story set on the snow-swept South Downs. I’ve loved writing this book as it’s by far the most personal of my stories, inspired by my grandparents, who met when my grandad was a German Prisoner of War and my grandma a young woman in Eastbourne. All my books tend to have a significant element or two inspired by real life incidents – but this is by far the most personal.

Black Beacon ghost story

What about the bad? Well, whilst life outside of writing has had its ups and downs this year (with a few more downs than usual, including my mum breaking her hip in the summer) the writing has been pretty steady. I miss the excellent independent bookshop we had near us in Leatherhead: Barton’s Bookshop, where I used to go for signing sessions at least once a year, usually during the festive season. I miss the owner, Peter Snell, with his penchant for dressing up as Santa Claus, and I miss the staff – I’ve done signings at other events over the years, but nothing is as satisfying as going to a local bookstore, where everyone has a passion for books and reading.

Barton's Bookshop

That’s it for me – next up for my writing is the fourth Ghosts of Alice story, which has a completely different feel and setting – but more of that later in the year!

I wish you a Happy New Year, and hope it brings you what you want – or at least what you need!

Steve

A house with a troubled personality? The setting of The Man in the Woods

Do you think a house can have a troubled personality?

My latest novella, The Man in the Woods, is set in the Surrey Hills. It’s a landscape of rolling pine-clad hills and gentle valleys, a place where it doesn’t take long to find deep stillness and magic, belying the fact it’s less than an hour’s drive from London.

A troubled house in the woods, inspiration for The Man in the Woods
scary house in mysterious horror forest at night

I’ve been living on the edge of the Surrey Hills for 13 years now and love the place. But, as is common with creative writing, the house that inspired The Man in the Woods was somewhere else altogether. It was a house on the edge of a woodland in Kenilworth, a small town in Warwickshire, where I lived for a couple of years as a teenager.

An unhappy house

It’s an odd thing to say, but that house in Kenilworth was not a happy house. Whilst I loved Kenilworth itself, and had plenty of good times there, I never really liked that house. Strange things used to happen there.

Little things lost would be found days later, in the most obvious places – absurd things like a toilet roll holder, which turned up the week after in the middle of the bathroom floor. My stereo would whisper and hiss for some time after it was switched off. We were burgled in broad daylight, the dog emerging cowed at the top of the stairs when we got home and found everything in disarray.

My mum and stepdad’s relationship broke down while we were there. But he didn’t move out so we had to walk through ‘his’ rooms to get to ours, which was very uncomfortable.

One day, a woman appeared at the front door and told my mum the house was cursed. She said she’d fallen down the (very steep) stairs while she was living there, and her partner had fallen down a hole nearby and died.

I met one of my best friends from school recently, who I hadn’t seen for a while. He’s certainly the most practical and sensible of all my friends and he worked for years in the car industry. He visited our house in Kenilworth a few times and admitted how much he hadn’t liked it. He confessed he’d always thought it was us, our family, who caused the troubled aura. But then, when we moved to a new home, he started coming round all the time. He realised it hadn’t been us. It was the house.

Do you know a troubled house?

So that’s how the setting for The Man in the Woods came about. I put together a beautiful wood and a house which, despite its idyllic location, I honestly never liked. It felt like the perfect match for my sinister story.

I’m still inclined to think that the feel of that house was more to do with the troubled relationships in it, and that there was some practical explanation to the weird little things that happened. After all, it’s just possible that a dog could have got hold of a toilet roll holder and played with it for a while before dropping it a few days later in the bathroom. But despite that, I keep an open mind. Perhaps there really was something bad that had happened there, something sinister that seeped into the walls.

I’d be really interested to hear if you have any similar stories of a house with a troubled personality, or of any other troubled places? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like to read The Man in the Woods, here’s the link:

(Incidentally, there’s a poem about that period of my childhood in my collection, The Things We Thought Were Beautiful – you’ll know which one it is when you see it, the title gives it away!)

The Man in the Woods – a reading

What better time to do a video reading than on the release of a new book!?

People have been saying some very nice things on Amazon and Instagram about my new psychological thriller, The Man in the Woods. Here’s a few of them:

***** I can’t recommend this book highly enough

***** You’ll be blown away by the ending

***** An easy 5 stars, deserving of 10

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, here’s a short video reading from the opening chapter to tempt you!

Here’s the blurb:

Who is… the Man in the Woods?

The woods are deep and dark and cold and empty…

…except for a solitary boy, out riding his bike…

…and a lone wanderer…

What will happen when their paths cross?

Whatever it is, things will never be the same again.

A chilling psychological novella with a dark twist, from the author of the bestselling Ghosts of Alice series.

Available on Amazon now:

The Man in the Woods is out now!

I’m excited to tell you my latest book, a chilling psychological novella called The Man in the Woods, is out now!

The blurb is limited on this one, as I don’t want to give too much away:

Who is… The Man in the Woods?

The woods are deep and dark and cold and empty…

… except for a solitary boy, out riding his bike…

… and a lone wanderer…

And a lone wanderer, The Man in the Woods

What will happen when their paths cross?

Whatever it is, things will never be the same again.

The Man in the Woods chilling psychological thriller out now!

The Man in the Woods is available on Amazon, in paperback and Kindle editions – or read for free on Kindle Unlimited! Click below for more details and to read an excerpt: